As the humanitarian situation in South Sudan becomes ever more precarious, aid officials are confronting a reality in which short-term humanitarian needs have become top priority, and the risks and uncertainty of operating in the country have discouraged investment in longer-term development projects.
Humanitarian officials are warning of an impending famine, which could be the worst in decades if farmers are unable to plant before seasonal rains because of violence. More than a million people have been displaced, according to the United Nations, and violence in the oil-rich northern states continues to escalate.
The U.N. Security Council on Thursday condemned the massacre of hundreds of civilians by rebel forces last week. Meanwhile, what was seen as a political conflict is being increasingly fought along ethnic lines.
As the country spirals out of control, some donors are suspending funding for development projects or reprogramming aid for humanitarian relief.
Balazs Horvath, U.N. Development Program country director in South Sudan, argued, however, that the risks for donors of not engaging in long-term development are much greater than the those of potential failure — and that abandoning development projects is a mistake.
While calling for an immediate focus on looming humanitarian catastrophe in the country, Horvath said in a video interview with Devex that donors must continue to address long-term development needs.
Balazs visited Washington, D.C., in March to urge foreign aid donors to remain committed to long-term development cooperation and institution building in the fledgling democracy to prevent further humanitarian catastrophes.
UNDP’s work in the country has focused on building the capacity of the government to create space for political dialogue. With few institutions and little in the way of national identity, there is little space in the political processes for resolving conflicts. In order to support long-term peace and development in the country, the U.N. agency is working on reconciliation, which the organization sees as critical to the long-term stability of the country, despite the current challenges to pursuing reconciliation.
Horvath explained why he sees institutional capacity building and reconciliation as critical to South Sudan’s stability.
“It’s critically important to somehow obtain closure for the people who have suffered and — let me be very, very clear — almost every family in South Sudan has suffered,” he said.
While the situation in South Sudan continues to deteriorate, humanitarian agencies are calling for an international response that can help to limit the damage.
“This is a country with fabulous potential,” Horvath said, citing the country’s natural resources and potential for economic growth, but “everything now hinges on finding a sustainable way out from violence.”
Paul Stephens is a Devex staff writer based in Washington, D.C. His coverage focuses on Latin America and World Bank affairs, as well as Washington's global development scene. As a multimedia journalist, editor and producer, Paul has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, CBS Evening News, GlobalPost and the United Nations magazine, among other outlets. He's won a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a 5-month, in-depth reporting project in Yemen after two stints in Georgia - one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.